Why Is There A Casserole Named After John Wayne?

Biscuits, beef, and cheese are the keys to a cowboy's heart — and apparently, to the hearts of the actors who play them, too. John Wayne, the quintessential cowboy, was one of the most iconic actors of Hollywood's Golden Age. Also known as "the Duke," Wayne and his characters represented traditional American values and helped catapult the Western genre into longstanding success. However, playing a cowboy onscreen was not Wayne's only talent. He could also make a mean casserole fit for the Wild West.

A 1979 cookbook titled "Cooking with Love from Cara and Her Friends" by Cara Connery was one of the last projects Wayne contributed to before his death the same year. Conner, just 10 years old, was looking for a way to raise money for cancer research after losing family members to the disease and self-published the book with the help of her mother. She contacted over 1,400 celebrities, receiving contributions from several notable names, including Ed Asner, Jimmy Carter, Robert Redford, Alan Alda, and of course, John Wayne. 

In her pitch, she asked the stars to provide the recipe for their favorite dish. Wayne offered a simple concoction of egg souffle, cheese, green chiles, and tomatoes. His basic recipe became known as John Wayne Casserole, and it's now adored as a breakfast classic in many households. However, the most well-known version of the dish has other ingredients.

A cowboy's ideal dish

Years after the recipe's publication, the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, altered it to incorporate more Southwestern influence. Affectionately nicknamed "the Duke," the University of Mississippi Medical Center's version is an entirely different recipe than John Wayne's, reflecting what a typical cowboy might eat in the Old West. Instead of eggs, the base of the casserole is ground beef and biscuits. Although there are many substitutions across various recipes, the heart of the revised meal is the combination of meat, bread, cheese, and peppers. Some opt for jalapeños, and others stick to green chiles and bell peppers. The most modern Tex-Mex component is the taco seasoning for extra flavoring. 

As the fast life of a cowboy would have it, the Southwestern version of John Wayne Casserole is an easy dinner. Simply layer the ingredients, starting with the biscuit base, and add the cooked meat and vegetable mixture above it. Then, top with sour cream, mayonnaise, and cheese. Place it in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and you'll be eating like a cowboy in just 20 to 25 minutes.